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Formal Education and Spiritual Maturity

Posted by on Oct 27, 2011 in blog links, discipleship | 12 comments

Formal Education and Spiritual Maturity

Yesterday, Christopher at “A New Testament Student” published a very good post called “Education.” His post was a response and continuation of a post that I wrote three years ago called “Maturity and Education.”

Christopher is writing about a topic that is very important to me for several reasons. In his post, he says (among other things):

The idea of education in the Church is one that has often perplexed me. The apostles were fishermen, tax collectors, and were even called “uneducated men” (Acts 4:13). They were men filled with the Holy Spirit, walking in faith and trust in God. On the other hand, they did spend three years under Jesus teaching prior to his crucifixion and also received teaching during Christ’s short stay on earth after His resurrection. As with most ideas in our faith, it comes down to the heart.

How you approach Christian education makes all the difference. If you go into seminary or bible school with the intent to gain a degree just so you can pursue a career in ministry and keep that mentality throughout your studies, you will gain quite a bit of knowledge. However, that knowledge may not result in exponential growth in spiritual maturity. If you enter into seminary with the intent to seek the heart of God, the self discipline, amount of study, and time needed to complete any degree in Christian higher education will undoubtedly result in greater maturity upon graduation.

Because of my original post, I’m often accused of being against formal education. I don’t understand this accusation, especially since I currently have three degrees (one bachelors and two masters), and I’m working on a PhD. In fact, I would love to one day teach in a formal education environment. I am not opposed to formal education.

However, formal education is not the same thing as spiritual maturity. In fact, at times, formal education can be a detriment to spiritual maturity, especially if the studies hinder the student’s life in community with other believers and in serving others. (In the seminary context, I’ve heard some students state that going to school is their service for that time period. This is a dangerous attitude in relation to a person’s spiritual maturity.)

In relation to leaders among the church (that is, whose example do we follow?), we should consider spiritual maturity first. Some can be highly educated (even in the subjects of Bible, Christian theology, missions, ministry, etc.) and still be very immature when it comes to living a life that demonstrates the gospel of Jesus Christ. Having a formal education does not indicate that that person’s example should be followed.

Yes, formal education has its place. But, we must never confuse formal education with spiritual maturity.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 10-27-2011

    “In relation to leaders among the church (that is, whose example do we follow?), we should consider spiritual maturity first.”

    There are those who add points for education, and there are those who take points away for education (the same is true for height, age, family size, looks, wealth, business accomplishment, etc.). Since education (nor any of the other extra-biblical assessment criteria in popular use) is not mentioned as a way to identify those we willingly follow, should it have any bearing at all either way?

    In relation to leaders among the church (that is, whose example do we follow?), we should consider spiritual maturity PERIOD.

  2. 10-27-2011


    Wise words from you both. Those last two paragraphs are especially important.

    The end of formal education,for a wise follower of Christ,one who shows elements of spiritual maturity, is only the BEGINNING of becoming spiritually mature. It is the beginning of a growing process that ends only when we step into glory.

  3. 10-28-2011

    Great writings and wisdom. I, too, don’t get this preoccupation that having lots of formal education makes one more suited for “the ministry”. Personally, I while it certainly did not begin withe the Age of Reason, I do think that period in history had a dramatic impact on the thinking that formal education was ow one became a wiser person, and Christian.

    Even our church models are set up to solidify this concept. We have education departments, bible schools, etc. However, while all “good”, I have yet to see a system which encourages mentorship, spiritual maturity, and listening to the Spirit of God.

    I wonder how much more effective we would be in the kingdom if we were to focus on these spiritual concepts, and less on the educational approach which is limited by ones intellectual abilities.

    Marc S

  4. 10-28-2011


    I agree. I wasn’t trying to add points for formal education, although I do see how my statement could indicate that I was.

    Aussie John,

    I would say that spiritual maturity is the beginning and end, whether formal education is included or not.


    You asked, “I wonder how much more effective we would be in the kingdom if we were to focus on these spiritual concepts, and less on the educational approach which is limited by ones intellectual abilities.” That’s a good question…


  5. 10-28-2011

    I think education is important, but the whole American church/seminary system loses points in my mind right off the bat when I look at the state of Christianity here. We are the best educated, most biblically literate generation in history and yet Kingdom growth among our churches doesn’t even match population growth. We are losing the war, it seems, while lesser educated (and more spirit filled?) believers are advancing the Kingdom in Africa and Asia. Maybe because we are so over educated, the Spirit lives less in us. Knowledge puffs up, I guess.

  6. 10-28-2011


    I wasn’t limiting spiritual maturity to those who choose formal education, far from it.

    What I was saying was that growth towards spiritual maturity is a process which never stops. I doubt very much that formal education contributes much to the process.

    I have watched far too many people,young and older, who have completed formal education, begin ministry in churches, completely dismissing some (whom I would look up to as spiritually mature men and women), and damaging other younger ones who think formal education makes for maturity.

    Anyone who claims to be spiritually mature probably is not!

  7. 10-29-2011


    I don’t think the Spirit lives less in us. Maybe we just think we know more than him. 🙂

    Aussie John,

    “[G]rowth towards spiritual maturity is a process which never stops.” Very well stated!


  8. 10-30-2011

    Wow, how refreshing to see such a post from a seminary student. I am in a situation where I see the exact opposite thinking all the time. Give me the guy or gal with calloused knees whose spiritual maturity and fruit is obvious any day of the week. I am weary of the know it all brash young seminary students and pastors.

    I agree with Christopher concerning the original 12. They were not the cream of the crop rabbinically speaking. Yet, most were sent to the Jews. Then God sends the cream of the crop, educated by Gameliel, Paul the Pharisee, to the Gentiles. Ironic, huh?

  9. 10-31-2011

    While formal education provides no basis to determine spiritual maturity (and is more likely to impede spiritual maturity than to foster it, and most who completed an MDiv say it ill prepared them for church leadership), I do recommend considering it for those who want to serve the traditional church. Let me first be clear on what I believe: formal education has nothing whatsoever to do with biblical qualification or capacity to serve in the church.

    But then, if you want to serve the traditional church, you have to consider the limitations and rejections you will face without a formal education. Paul provides an informative example of accommodating extra-biblical, cultural requirements for ministry to specific groups.

    Read Acts 15, and tell me whether you think Paul believed circumcision was necessary, or had any place at all in accomplishing or determining spiritual maturity in a Christian. In fact, Paul was ready to “go to war” over the issue when some came from Jerusalem claiming, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.”

    The chapter begins with, “no small dissension and disputation,” and “much disputing,” over this issue, and ends with agreement that:

    “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment” Acts 1:24

    We also know how Paul considered circumcision:

    “Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.” I Cor 7:18

    “Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing.” Gal 5:2

    Paul was also very aware of the impact that examples provide, and he was very careful in how he behaved knowing this (see Phil 3:17; I Thess 3:9 and even his advice to Timothy in 1 Tim 4:12). Yet, immediately following the Acts 15 confrontation and resolution on this issue, we find this (Acts 16:1-5):

    “Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek:

    “Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium.

    “Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek.

    “And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.

    “And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.”

    The first time I noticed this, my mouth hung open. What? Then I slowly dismounted from my high horse on education. Yes, I’m right, it is NOT at all required. Yet, love may require it. And while Paul was the apostle sent to the gentiles, he “could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” I Cor 9:2-3)

    In this same spirit of accommodation of deeply held, extra-biblical, cultural requirements for service in order to gain access and hearing to a people, I recommend considering the case for formal education to anyone wanting to labor among those in traditional churches. It will be a stumbling stone for them if you do not. Especially if your goal is to move their practices away from many of their existing traditions towards fulfilling biblical purposes in the ways we function as the church.

    In short, circumcision is not necessary and is likely harmful if misunderstood by the circumcisee to think it confers any actual benefit; go get circumcised anyway. Love will lead us where logic will not.

  10. 10-31-2011

    I Thess 3:9 reference should have been II Thess 3:9 (but, you likely already guessed that).

  11. 10-31-2011

    Art gives a good view about higher education that I never considered. Many churches are set on having their ministers or pastors have a higher degree of education. I do find it ironic, however, that I have yet to find anyone demand that the church elders…the very ones who are suppose to be the spiritual leaders of God’s community…have the very same credentials!

    My real issue isn’t the fact that pastors have an education, or, even that they should get one based on Art’s comments. What is so frustrating is that preachers and leaders themselves believe that the higher degree gives them more spiritual insight than anyone else. It is one thing when the church thinks it. But when the leadership believes it, then we no longer have to wonder why the church is in the mess that it is in.

    I have a M.Ed in Counseling. However, it is practically useless to me. I never use the material that was taught to me in graduate school. Instead, my teaching came from a wise old man who didn’t even graduate from high school. His insight into the scriptures and into the life that Jesus promised was so deep, he was able to be used as a vessel of life to people who were deeply hurting. Politicians, lawyers, doctors…and preachers…would come visit him on a daily basis because he had the Word of Life on his heart and on his mind. I would stack him up against a thousand “therapists” any day of the week. He was a man of the Spirit.

    We definitely need more men and women with this type of heart than we do men and women with a graduate degree and no clarity of the spirit.

  12. 10-31-2011


    Yes, that’s a good point. The same could be said of Paul’s decision to do the purification rite in Acts 21:23-26. There are many things that are not required for our relationship with Christ that may be *required* for our relationships with others. Paul is a great example of serving others by giving up many of his rights and freedom. As he once wrote, “Owe no one anything except love…” (Romans 13:8)

    Of course, choosing this path (formal education) for this reason demonstrates spiritual maturity more than the actual degree does… 🙂


    “But when the leadership believes it [‘that the higher degree gives them more spiritual insight than anyone else’], then we no longer have to wonder why the church is in the mess that it is in.” True… true…